A night at the Prox­im­ity in Greens­boro, N.C., the coun­try’s old­est LEED Plat­inum-cer­ti­fied ho­tel.

The United States’ first LEED top-rated ho­tel still sets a high bar

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY BRADY DEN­NIS brady.den­nis@wash­post.com

In one sense, the Prox­im­ity Ho­tel in Greens­boro, N.C., shouts its en­vi­ron­men­tal bona fides from the rooftop.

One of the first sights that greet guests as they turn in to an other­wise non­de­script of­fice park off Green Val­ley Road are the 100 so­lar pan­els perched atop the hand­some ho­tel, which from afar looks like an old tex­tile ware­house lov­ingly brought back to life.

Vis­i­tors with low-emit­ting, fuel-ef­fi­cient ve­hi­cles can pull into a pre­ferred park­ing spot closer to the front en­trance, where a U.S. Green Build­ing Coun­cil seal pro­claims the ho­tel’s sta­tus as LEED Plat­inum — a rat­ing re­served for the most en­er­gy­ef­fi­cient of build­ings. (The Prox­im­ity be­came the first ho­tel in the United States to earn the dis­tinc­tion nearly a decade ago, and only a hand­ful have earned it since.)

“We are the green­est ho­tel in Amer­ica,” a re­cep­tion­ist en­thu­si­as­ti­cally in­forms me from be­hind a float­ing front desk in the lobby, point­ing out that many of the ma­te­ri­als used to build the ho­tel were re­gion­ally sourced and al­most all the con­struc­tion waste was reused or re­cy­cled. (Much of the fur­ni­ture also was pro­duced within 18 miles of the ho­tel — a feat per­haps eas­ier to pull off in one of the coun­try’s fur­ni­ture mec­cas).

In my loft­like room on the Promix­ity’s top floor, with its stun­ning floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows, ex­posed con­crete walls and tow­er­ing ceil­ing, a card on the plush king-size bed de­tails more of the ho­tel’s Earth-lov­ing ways.

“Chances are the hot wa­ter you en­joy will be heated by to­day’s or yes­ter­day’s sun­light!” it reads.

I learn that the ho­tel cir­cu­lates “fresh yet fil­tered” out­side air to its guest rooms year-round, that the el­e­va­tors are “the first in North Amer­ica to gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity as they de­scend to use for the as­cent,” that high-ef­fi­ciency faucets and toi­lets re­duce wa­ter usage by 33 per­cent, that the ho­tel over­all uses roughly 40 per­cent less elec­tric­ity than a con­ven­tional ho­tel and that the kitchen in the down­stairs restau­rant uses a geo­ther­mal cool­ing sys­tem.

It’s quite a pitch. Enough to make a cli­mate-con­scious trav­eler swoon, or an or­di­nary trav­eler’s head spin with the earnest­ness of it all.

Luck­ily for trav­el­ers of ev­ery kind, that card on the bed made an­other prom­ise: “You won’t sac­ri­fice one iota of lux­ury or com­fort be­cause of our com­mit­ment to sus­tain­able prac­tices. We be­lieve that de­pri­va­tion is not sus­tain­able.”

Not to worry. There is no de­pri­va­tion in the prox­im­ity of Prox­im­ity.

The fur­ni­ture might be lo­cally man­u­fac­tured and the con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als care­fully re­cy­cled, but sit­ting in the ho­tel’s airy twos­tory lobby one af­ter­noon, I was struck not by the sus­tain­abil­ity of it all but by the seren­ity. The chairs and couches were com­fort­able and invit­ing. White or­chids hung from the walls. Nat­u­ral light spilled in from mas­sive win­dows, which over­looked an in­te­rior gar­den brim­ming with blue­bells and flow­er­ing mag­no­lias.

Later, in the ad­ja­cent Print Works Bistro — a cozy restau­rant that could have been plucked from a Paris side street — I frankly gave lit­tle thought that the bar had been made from sal­vaged wal­nut trees, the ser­vice trays from Ply­boo (bam­boo ply­wood) or the drink coast­ers from cut up pieces of card­board. Rather, I spent much more time sa­vor­ing the per­fectly seared hanger steak, lo­cally sourced veg­eta­bles and a beer from a nearby brew­ery.

This is how it was in­tended to be, ac­cord­ing to Prox­im­ity’s en­thu­si­as­tic, ide­al­is­tic-but-prac­ti­cal co-owner, Den­nis Quain­tance, who along with his wife, Nancy King Quain­tance, con­ceived of the ho­tel. In part think­ing about the sort of legacy they wanted to leave for their twin chil­dren, the cou­ple de­cided to build a ho­tel cen­tered on sus­tain­able prac­tices, but not one known only for that.

“I want peo­ple to know about it when they are book­ing the ho­tel. But I don’t want them to no­tice it once they’re there,” Den­nis Quain­tance tells me when I call him a few days af­ter my stay. “That’s the best of both worlds.”

The Quain­tances, who also own the nearby O. Henry Ho­tel and sev­eral restau­rants, over­saw ev­ery de­tail of the Prox­im­ity, right down to the low-flow toi­lets they fi­nally de­cided upon af­ter test­ing out dif­fer­ent mod­els in their own home week af­ter week. The “com­mode du jour,” their daugh­ter called the ro­tat­ing mod­els in the bath­room near the fam­ily kitchen.

A decade later, Den­nis Quain­tance — a man who walks the sev­eral miles from his home to his ho­tels most days — has be­come an am­bas­sador for mak­ing sus­tain­able choices.

“It’s a myth, ab­so­lutely a myth, that it’s more ex­pen­sive,” he says, not­ing that the cou­ple re­couped any higher up­front con­struc­tion costs in about four years by what they saved in tax cred­its and lower en­ergy costs. Af­ter all, they are busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives first. “It’s not sus­tain­able to go broke,” he says.

A decade on, the cou­ple has con­tin­ued their eco-con­scious ways. For in­stance, they em­ploy more than a half-dozen crafts­peo­ple in a stu­dio not far from the Prox­im­ity.

There, worn out chairs get re­uphol­stered and re­freshed rather than scrapped and re­placed. An artist-in-res­i­dence makes char­coal-on-can­vas sketches that adorn guest rooms and com­mon ar­eas. The group also builds cus­tom fur­nish­ings for the ho­tel — an­tiqued mir­rors, one-of-a-kind ta­bles, cab­i­nets, chairs and lamp­shades — that are more unique and typ­i­cally less ex­pen­sive than buy­ing from out­side ven­dors.

“To me, it just seems more soul­ful, more au­then­tic,” Quain­tance says.

And that’s the dif­fer­ence. The so­lar pan­els, the high-ef­fi­ciency plumb­ing, the sal­vaged wood and re­cy­cled con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als — it’s an ad­mirable, Earth-friendly ap­proach, not to men­tion an ap­par­ently as­tute busi­ness decision.

But I sus­pect what prompts so many of Prox­im­ity’s vis­i­tors to make re­turn vis­its has very lit­tle to do with its car­bon foot­print and a lot to do with its un­de­ni­able charm.

Au­then­tic­ity and soul, it turns out, might be the most sus­tain­able qual­i­ties of all.


Din­ers lounge out­side at the Print Works Bistro con­nected to the Prox­im­ity Ho­tel in Greens­boro, N.C.

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